A letter from the editors

It’s hard to get into the work of research. This theme surfaced in our project as soon as organizers began opening event pages for the 2019 workshop series. Our events were aimed at connecting and learning from people who were already doing the work; our events drew many people who were looking for a way to get started. (This led some of our organizers from creating open events to collecting “expressions of interest” so they could curate attendees.) 

Research as a specialty in modern product/service development is not new; it is also not widely diffused, or at a consistent level of maturity. We see researchers working to establish the same type of foothold that the larger discipline of design has already accomplished. But we’re not there yet, and mixed adoption of the formal practice creates challenges for those looking to get into the work..

Organizations establishing a new research function look for experienced or lead researchers who know the ropes, can adapt the process and build a program that will hook into, and hopefully reshape, how the organization works.  Small teams that are building initial capacity also look to hire researchers with experience: enough so that the current team takes only a light burden in onboarding, training, and coaching. These are the majority of roles currently available in the discipline.  

The best roles for new researchers are in larger organizations with an established team that is able to dedicate a heavier amount of time to training, upskilling, and feedback. While they are less common and highly competitive roles (and tend to prioritize candidates with prior research experience), it’s also an excellent start: a well-prepared team that can make the work manageable, and provide practical guidance rooted in hands-on experience.  

Startups are an option: they may lack either the appropriate budget for a more experienced researcher, or clear expectations on what a new researcher can do. It’s an excellent experimental proving ground for adaptable and self-driven researchers; it’s also a highly-constrained environment that creates difficult and unfocused demands on a researcher, often without a useful feedback loop from someone who knows how the work should work.
Biggest challenge: “That I am the only UX researcher in the company. So the others don't really know what I am doing and cannot give me feedback about UX.”
—UX Researcher, public sector, ½ year in the field
It leaves us an interesting place: “user”, “ux”, and “design” researchers are working from what was initially a sub-discipline of design, trying now to forge ahead into higher strategic decision layers, while continually developing more humane, more useful understanding of people along the way. We haven’t “made it” yet, or really found our place; many of us are struggling in organizations that believe in the idea of the work, and have no idea what it looks like. Limited organizational maturity also leads to pressure and difficult demands for those who are proving the work.
Biggest challenge: “Working on multiple projects at the same time (as a researcher,) while also thinking on working on UX Strategy and the operational part, from tooling to recruitment and management.”
—User Researcher, in-house, 2.5 years in the field

But momentum is building. Europe and the US each have major, dedicated research conferences, all starting within the last 3 years. We have an increasingly shared understanding of what our work is, and are just now exploring what it really can do. The discipline is moulting and the next five years will set the shape of our new form.  

We want researchers to own that conversation; to help the discipline unfold in a self-directed way. To help the community support itself. Our contributions to this effort are insights based on the 2019 workshop series, and a Framework to reshape how we think of our work. 

Dave Hora & Tomomi Sasaki

ResearchOps community